Foreign diplomats visit ‘normal’ Kashmir on state-run trip

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An Indian paramilitary soldier stops civil vehicles as a convoy of New Delhi-based diplomats passes through Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020. (AP)
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Indian policemen guard as a convoy of New Delhi-based diplomats passes through Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020.(AP)
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Updated 09 January 2020

Foreign diplomats visit ‘normal’ Kashmir on state-run trip

  • India-run Kashmir in lockdown since August
  • Activists and political leaders imprisoned

NEW DELHI: India on Thursday said it took 15 foreign diplomats, including the US ambassador, to its portion of Kashmir to show it was getting life back to normal more than five months after the start of a lockdown.

Indian-administered Kashmir has been tense since the government in New Delhi scrapped the region’s semi-independent status and imposed a security and communications crackdown. Tourism and commerce has been devastated by the lockdown, while activists and political leaders have been jailed. The internet remains cut off.

The Ministry of External Affairs said that the two-day visit by diplomats from the US, South Korea, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Maldives, Morocco, Fiji, Norway, Philippines, Argentina, Peru, Niger, Nigeria, Togo, and Guyana was requested by some of the New Delhi-based ambassadors.

“The objective of the visit is for the envoys to see the efforts being made by the government to bring the situation to normal and see first-hand the impact of series of steps taken by the local administration to normalize the situation in recent weeks,” said Raveesh Kumar, the ministry's spokesman.

He added that the program “was drawn up keeping in mind the threat posed by terrorism and taking adequate precautions for security.”

The ambassadors were in Srinagar on Thursday and were reported to have met and interacted with security officials, members of civil society and selected journalists.

“I told the reality of Kashmir to the foreign delegation,” Majid Hyderi, one of the journalists who met the foreign diplomats in Srinagar, told Arab News. “The envoys gave us a patient hearing. The visit helps (to give) the outside world a window to know what is actually happening in Kashmir.”

There was controversy before the trip, with some European Union ambassadors pulling out. There were media reports that the EU delegation wanted to be given a free hand in Kashmir and expressed a desire to meet jailed leaders, but that the Indian government opposed their wishes.

The Kashmir visit has been branded a “a guided trip” by the opposition Congress party.

“The government is adopting double standards by allowing foreign envoys to visit J&K, but not Indian politicians,” the party's spokesman, Jairam Ramesh, said at a press conference in New Delhi.

He demanded “unfettered access to Kashmir to all politicians” instead of guided tours for diplomats. “There should be meaningful political activities in the state,” he added.

On Friday the diplomats head to Jammu, which is considered the region's winter capital.

Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, Jammu-based editor of the Kashmir Times, questioned the government's motives.

“Why should the government do this conducted tour? It’s sheer hypocrisy by New Delhi when they don’t allow their own leaders to visit the state, keeping the mainstream leaders of Kashmir in jail. This is heaping further insult onto the people,” she told Arab News. “It further exposes the government that they have something to hide. A communication curb is a reality both in Srinagar and Jammu. There is an uneasy lull in Kashmir. The visit of envoys does not change the ground reality. The trust of people in the valley is completely broken. Even Jammu is feeling the pain of the lockdown and people are getting alienated.”

Srinagar-based rights activist Khurram Parvez said that by “soliciting” international support New Delhi was going against its own declared policy of not seeking international intervention in Kashmir.

He told Arab News that the government wanted some kind of legitimacy for its action as there appeared to be some insecurity in its ranks. “People are angrier now than in the past and they will express themselves in time to come.”

Kashmir is India’s only Muslim-majority state and scrapping its special status was New Delhi’s bid to integrate it fully with India and to rein in militancy. 

The Himalayan region has experienced turmoil and violence for decades. It is claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, which have gone to war twice over it, and both rule parts of it. India’s portion has been plagued by separatist violence since the late 1980s.

Srinagar-based Kashmir University professor, Sheikh Showkat Hussain, said the envoys’ visit was an attempt to improve India’s “battered” international image.

“The presence of the US envoy I think shows that Washington somehow wants to enlist New Delhi’s support in its escalating tension with Iran. Pakistan has refused to be part of any war. So, the US is looking towards India,” Hussain told Arab News.


Virus prompts temperature checks, extra cleaning at airports

This picture taken on January 13, 2020 shows Taiwan's Center for Disease Control (CDC) personnel using thermal scanners to screen passengers arriving on a flight from China's Wuhan province, where a SARS-like virus was discovered and has since spread, at the Taoyuan International Airport. (AFP)
Updated 22 January 2020

Virus prompts temperature checks, extra cleaning at airports

  • The outbreak has spread to cities including Beijing and Shanghai, with cases also confirmed in Thailand, South Korea, Japan, as well as Taiwan

BEIJING: Many countries are checking the temperatures of arriving airline passengers and adopting precautionary quarantine procedures in response to a new virus that has sickened nearly 440 people and killed nine in China. India, Nigeria, Japan and the United States are some of the countries where airport screening procedures were in place.
The outbreak is believed to have originated in the city of Wuhan in central China. The Chinese government’s confirmation that the new virus can be transmitted between people heightened fears it could spread faster and more widely just as millions of Chinese planned to travel for the Lunar New Year holiday. So far, the US, South Korea, Japan and Thailand have confirmed additional cases. Widening public health measures are intended to prevent a repeat of the 2002-2003 outbreak of SARS, which started in China and killed nearly 800 people.
China’s often-secretive Communist government was blamed for making SARS far worse by initially hiding information and blocking the work of the World Health Organization. This time, leader Xi Jinping has called for tough measures and said “party committees, governments and relevant departments at all levels should put people’s lives and health first.” At the airport in Wuhan, the temperatures of departing passengers were checked and outbound tour groups were banned from leaving the city. Virtually everyone in a public role, from traffic police officers to bank tellers, is wearing a protective face mask. In addition to 258 cases in Wuhan, more than 20 have been diagnosed in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong province in the south and Zhejiang in the east.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged officials to step up quarantine checks at airports and other entry points, and Japan will require visitors arriving from Wuhan to fill in health forms. Japan confirmed last week that a man in his 30s tested positive for the coronavirus after returning from the Chinese city. The health ministry says 41 people who had contact with him were being monitored and none has developed a fever, tight chest or other symptoms.
The semi-autonomous city is one of the most popular destinations for mainland Chinese. It has stepped up surveillance and ordered more cleaning and disinfecting for planes and trains from Wuhan as well as for train stations and the airport. Acting Chief Executive Matthew Cheung said authorities are ready for a worst-case scenario and are on extremely high alert. A lack of information and low levels of vigilance were blamed for Hong Kong becoming the second-hardest hit area by SARS after mainland China in the early 2000s. As in much of mainland China, Hong Kong residents favor traditional markets where live poultry and other animals are sold. The government advises people against visiting such markets or touching animals or their droppings.
The US reported its first case of the virus on Tuesday in a man in Washington state who recently traveled from China. Health authorities are checking his contacts and travel. The US also will route all Wuhan-originating airline passengers to five airports where health screenings have begun or will begin later this week — New York’s Kennedy airport, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed a test to detect the new coronavirus and plans to share it with others.
South Korea reported its first case of the virus on Monday, in a Chinese woman who works at a South Korean company. At Incheon airport near Seoul, the only airport in South Korea with direct flights from Wuhan, two special gates are designated for passengers from the city and ear thermometers are used to check their temperatures. Arrival halls are being sprayed with disinfectant twice a week, up from once a week previously, and escalator handrails, elevator buttons and other sensitive surfaces are wiped with disinfectant twice a day. In 2015, South Korea suffered an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome which killed 36 people and sickened nearly 200.
Nigeria’s government says health authorities at points of entry are on alert for cases of coronavirus arriving in Africa’s most populous country. The Nigeria Center for Disease Control asked that travelers from Wuhan report to a medical facility and the center if they feel ill. China is Africa’s top trading partner. South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said anyone with a severe respiratory illness should be tested if they have traveled to Wuhan within two weeks or had close physical contact with a coronavirus patient or treatment at a facility where a confirmed case has been reported. There were more than 200,000 Chinese workers in Africa as of the end of 2017, not including numerous informal migrants such as traders and shopkeepers, according to the China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University.
India will expand thermal screening of passengers arriving from China, including Hong Kong, to seven airports from the current three. In-flight announcements before arrival will direct passengers with a fever or cough who have traveled to Wuhan in the previous 14 days to declare themselves to health authorities. Thermal screening will begin in Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Cochin, and continue in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, the Ministry of Civil Aviation said.

Singapore will expand temperature screening at Changi Airport, one of Asia’s busiest travel hubs, for all travelers on flights arriving from China beginning on Wednesday. The health ministry said individuals with pneumonia and a history of travel to Wuhan within 14 days of the onset of symptoms will be isolated in a hospital as a precautionary measure and investigated. Neighboring Malaysia has also beefed up screening at Kuala Lumpur’s airport. Deputy health Minister Lee Boon Chye said staff are being trained to handle possible cases. “If a case emerges, then we may have to take more drastic measures, but for now, we hope we can nip it at the entry point,” Lee told reporters.
Bangladesh civil aviation authorities have ordered airport managers to start screening incoming passengers from China. A.H.M. Touhid-ul Ahsan, director of the main Shahjalal International Airport, said doctors at the airport would look for fevers, coughs, breathing difficulties and sore throats. The country’s Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research will be notified of any passengers with symptoms for further examination, he said.
Brendan Murphy, Australia’s chief medical officer, said biosecurity staff and state health officials in New South Wales are meeting flights from Wuhan and are distributing pamphlets printed in English and Chinese to all passengers. The pamphlets describe symptoms of infection and ask people to identify themselves if they are experiencing any.
Russia’s Healthcare Ministry described the virus as a biological hazard, with Deputy Minister Sergei Krayevoy saying the virus was a “striking example” of the biological threats Russia faces. The Russian public health service, Rospotrebnadzor, said it had developed a testing kit that would allow labs to detect the new coronavirus quickly. Russia is one of the three most popular tourist destinations for people from China, according to Russian officials. They estimate that about 2 million tourists from China visited Russia in 2018.
The Italian Health Ministry says passengers making direct and indirect flights from Wuhan, China to Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport will be checked for potential signs of the virus. People with suspected infections will be quarantined at an infectious disease hospital in Rome, the ministry says. No cases have been reported so far. Posters at the airport advise travelers to consider delaying trips to the Wuhan area and if they do go there to avoid touching animals or uncooked animal products.